A Frightening Vista

Shagasyia Diamond, 37, who is transgender, was arrested in 2014 during a domestic dispute in the Bronx. She said she was put in a cell with men and was subjected to slurs by police officers. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

“I felt totally voiceless. Like I wasn’t even human. Like my safety didn’t even matter.”

Shagasyia Diamond

Well, to the one, this is your New York Police Department. To the other, that doesn’t really help. Noah Remnick of the New York Times explains:

Although the New York Police Department amended its patrol guide in 2012 to require respectful treatment of transgender people, Ms. Diamond, who is a transgender woman, said she was subjected to a strip search by a male officer. Two other officers watched from a few feet away, gawking as she spread her legs. Officers then placed Ms. Diamond in a cell for men, she said, where she cowered in the corner as other inmates heckled her and used the exposed toilet in her presence. When she expressed her discomfort to an officer, he replied, “You know you like it in there with all the men.”

Officers snickered at Ms. Diamond throughout the process, she said, calling her a “he-she,” “tranny” and “it.”

“I felt totally voiceless,” Ms. Diamond, who is 37 and now divorced, said recently through tears. “Like I wasn’t even human. Like my safety didn’t even matter.”

When the patrol guide reforms were issued, advocates for transgender people lauded the changes as groundbreaking, if overdue. Officers now were required, among other provisions, to refer to people by their preferred names and gender pronouns, to allow people to be searched by an officer of their requested gender, and to refrain from “discourteous or disrespectful remarks” regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.

But in interviews with more than 20 transgender and gender nonconforming New Yorkers who have been arrested or had other contact with the police, as well as activists and lawyers representing them, they charge that three years since the regulations were adopted, police officers regularly flout them. Even as transgender visibility surges in the news media and in popular culture, and government agencies develop more sensitive policies, many transgender people continue to report that they are mocked in the most degrading terms by officers, searched roughly and inappropriately and placed in holding cells that do not correspond with their gender identity, all violations of the reforms enacted to address those very indignities.

There are at least a couple of ways to look at the situation. But here is the problem: Congratulations, my transgendered neighbors, you are regarded by NYPD as worthy of personally-tailored bigotry. You’re now equal to every other mistreated class out there.

And, no, that sarcasm doesn’t help. It’s kind of like the old joke about feminists. All they wanted, went the complaint, was everything. And what they got, said the complainers, though we know our sisters haven’t even received this basic respect of indignity, is the right to be treated like excrement just the same as anyone else.

In the first place, NYPD is determined to establish itself as a scourge to humanity.

To the second, though, we might take the moment to wonder if this is like the bit they go through with black people, where they go through a reform process every few years because the situation comes to an impassable conflict, and then go right back to being the sleaze the NYPD has worked so hard to make its distinctive quality.

And let’s throw in a ski-boxer’s third: Dearest friends and neighbors, no, you do not get to write this one off as just another bit of noise. We’re losing people right now because they are afraid to go to the police. This is a disaster.

Look, I’ve watched politics closely for decades, and I have never seen anyone in my quarter as frightened and verging on panic as the veteran hands in transgender advocacy and services in Middle America and the South.

Never.

My sisters are dying. And they’re scared. And, goddamnit, we know this is NYPD we’re talking about here, but come on.

This is what Hell looks like.

____________________

Image note: Shagasyia Diamond, 37, who is transgender, was arrested in 2014 during a domestic dispute in the Bronx. She said she was put in a cell with men and was subjected to slurs by police officers. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

Remnick, Noah. “Activists Say Police Abuse of Transgender People Persists Despite Reforms”. The New York Times. 7 September 2015.

Mey. “Amber Monroe Becomes the 12th TWOC Murdered in the US This Year, We Must #SayHerName”. AutoStraddle. 8 August 2015.

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